News Release

St. Patrick’s Day and the Irish Famine


Kinealy is author of “This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine 1845-52” and other books on Irish history. She is professor of history at Drew University in New Jersey and just returned from Ireland on Tuesday. She said today: “In 1997, the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade honoured the victims of Ireland’s Great Hunger of the 1840s. The Irish Hunger was triggered by a potato blight, but suffering was exacerbated by inappropriate and parsimonious relief policies. Consequently, in a period of just six years, over one million people died and an even higher number emigrated.

“At the time of the Famine, Ireland was governed from London, by British politicians who, for the most part, regarded the food shortages as an opportunity to change and modernize Ireland. But Ireland didn’t modernize and the human cost of the policies was that people died. Tormented by hunger, they endured painful and protracted deaths, while vast amounts of food left the country, often under armed guard. Those who emigrated fled from starvation only to face hostility and prejudice in their new homelands. Inevitably, many blamed the British government for their exile.

“Irish folk memory refers to the Famine dead as having ‘mouths stained green’ — because their last meal was often grass. When eating our green bagels this week, and celebrating our Irish-ness, perhaps we should spare a thought for victims of famine and social injustice wherever they may be.”

Professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law in Champaign, Boyle is author of “United Ireland, Human Rights and International Law.”

He said today: “Some controversy has surrounded the use of the word ‘genocide’ with regard to the Great Irish Famine. But this controversy has its source in an apparent misunderstanding of the meaning of genocide. No, the British government did not inflict on the Irish the abject horrors of the Nazi Holocaust. But the definition of ‘genocide’ reaches beyond such ghastly behavior to encompass other reprehensible acts designed to destroy a people.” Boyle wrote “The Irish Famine was Genocide.”

Background: “The Famine Year” by Speranza, the mother of Oscar Wilde

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167